by Elizabeth Lincicome
On a rainy Saturday morning in October, more than 30 boys have gathered to rehearse choral music in an unassuming brick house off of Ridge Road. Today they sing The First Noel, which they will perform at their Carols of Christmas concert. It’s a production that debuted in 1968, the keynote event of the Raleigh Boychoir’s performance season.
Over the last 46 years, the choir has flourished, cementing its accomplished reputation with performances at the White House, Carnegie Hall, and Notre Dame Cathedral. Its choristers, who range in age from 7 to 14, are proudly coached “in the boychoir tradition,” says assistant artistic director Vicki Oehling. By that she means they learn and perform the sacred and classical music “that has been performed by boychoirs for centuries in the great cathedrals of Europe.” It’s a unique and memorable sound, she says, “distinctly pure, focused, powerful and beautiful.”
To create that sound, they practice hard.
“On these phrases, make sure you take the breath from where we talked about,” says artistic director Jeremy Tucker, as he points to his abdominal muscles.
While the boys look to Tucker for singing direction, they look to one another for vocal cues and musical camaraderie. “How do we pronounce ‘Israel’ in the song?” one member asks the director. Then they’re on to the North Carolina state song, The Old North State, which they’re preparing to sing at November’s North Carolina Awards.
Thomas E. Sibley founded the Raleigh Boychoir in 1968 with 20 boys and a $50 contribution from the Woman’s Club of Raleigh. He was the music coordinator for Raleigh public schools and the organist and choirmaster for Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. He started the choir because he was concerned about the lack of choral experiences and performance opportunities for boys, and believed the choir would be a good way for boys to develop etiquette and discipline – values that are still emphasized today.
It’s a formula that works. Raleigh Boychoir alumni have gone on to join top boychoirs around the world, including the American Boychoir, St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, and the Vienna Boys’ Choir.
“I really appreciate what the boychoir has given me,” says Sterling Jones, 13, in his 7th year with the group. “I had no singing experience before joining and it’s just been a lot of fun.” Jones and his family moved to Raleigh from New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Like a choir of angels
The choir’s repertoire includes sacred and secular classics, selections from musical theater, and an assortment of American folk and patriotic music. It has many fans in and around the local arts community.
“The Raleigh Boychoir is a unique and special entity unlike any other chorus or choir because young boys’ voices before they change sound like angels,” says Robert Weiss, the founding artistic director of the Carolina Ballet.
This year, the Boychoir will sing during select Saturday and Sunday performances of the ballet’s Nutcracker. The scene in which they sing features a dramatic snowfall. “In the middle of this massive storm comes a calm,” Weiss says, “and then you hear the boys voices, no words, just singing, and it’s like a choir of angels singing. It sounds like you have been transported to the heavens. Sure, this has been done with female sopranos, but it’s not the same. This is what cherub angels sound like.”
Some are young enough to look like angels, too. Many are part of the group’s Training Choir, where new members most often begin. The Resident Choir is typically an entry point for older boys with a musical background; the Performing Choir is the organization’s primary touring group; and the Millennium Singers are a smaller, elite choir that boys audition to enter once they’re part of the Performing Choir.
Coby Schoolman, 13, is a member of the Performing Choir and has been with the group for four years. “Being in the Raleigh Boychoir is a real honor,” he says. “It’s really cool for me because there are so many other members who share the love of singing and just the love of music in general.”
There are also options for boys to continue to participate even after a boy has “voiced out” of the choir. An Alumni/Scholar Choir is comprised of alumni and young men, and the group is considering creating a Young Men’s Ensemble to provide another option for graduates.
Carols of Christmas
Friday, Dec. 19
Edenton Street United Methodist Church
228 West Edenton Street,
Carols of Christmas is a holiday staple in the Triangle area. Now in its 47th year, this premier concert features all of the choirs of The Raleigh Boychoir: Millennium Singers, Performing Choir, Resident Choir, Training Choir and Alumni/Scholar Choir.
Page-Walker Fall/Winter Concert Series
Sunday, Dec. 14
Page-Walker Arts & History Center
119 Ambassador Loop, Cary, NC
Tickets: www.etix.com (search term: boychoir)
This concert, featuring The Raleigh Boychoir Millennium Singers, is quickly becoming a tradition at the historic Page-Walker Arts & History Center.
Carolina Ballet Nutcracker
Saturday, Dec. 20:
Performances at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 21:
Performances at 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts
2 E. South Street, Raleigh, NC (Downtown Raleigh)
Choristers from The Raleigh Boychoir will lend their voices to Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker.